BaḤya ben Asher ben ḤLava

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BAḤYA BEN ASHER BEN ḤLAVA (13th century), exegete, preacher, and kabbalist. His great commentary on the Pentateuch (Naples, 1492) was written in 1291. According to tradition, he lived in Saragossa and served there as dayyan and preacher. He was a disciple of Solomon b. Abraham Adret, whom he called "my master," whenever he quoted from his commentaries. Curiously enough, Baḥya mentions neither his teacher's kabbalistic sayings nor his commentaries on the mystical teachings of Naḥmanides as did Solomon b. Adret's other disciples. There are also kabbalistic matters quoted anonymously by Baḥya which are attributed to Solomon b. Adret by other authors. This might confirm the assumption of J. Reifmann (Alummah, 1 (1936), 82) that Baḥya was not Solomon b. Adret's disciple in Kabbalah. It is also possible that he did not have his teacher's permission to quote him in kabbalistic matters. Isaac b. Todros of Barcelona, the commentator on Naḥmanides' esoteric teachings, is quoted by Baḥya only once, without the attribute "my teacher."

His Writings

Following *Botarel and for various reasons, spurious works (as well as writings whose authors are unknown) have been attributed to Baḥya. J. Reifmann's assumption that Baḥya wrote Ha-Emunah ve-ha-Bittaḥon (Korets, 1785), Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut (Mantua, 1558), and Ma'amar ha-Sekhel (Cremona, 1557), does not stand up to critical examination. Béla Bernstein has pointed out that a commentary on Job published in Baḥya's name was really a compilation made from two of his books: Kad ha-Kemaḥ (Constantinople, 1515) and Shulḥan shel Arba (Mantua, 1514). There was also the opinion that Baḥya's mention of Ḥoshen Mishpat was simply a printing error.

The clarity of Baḥya's style and his easy exposition have made his books (which draw their material from a variety of sources) popular with the public, particularly his commentary on the Pentateuch which has been published frequently from 1492 (with explanations and references, 2 vols., 1966–67). Additional testimony to its popularity are the numerous quotations from it in the book *Ẓe'enah u-Re'enah. In his work Baḥya interprets the Pentateuch in four ways: literal, homiletical, rational, and according to the Kabbalah. He uses many different sources, beginning with talmudic and midrashic literature, exegetic and philosophic literature, and ending with kabbalistic literature. The way of sekhel ("reason") does not always mean philosophic-rationalistic interpretation. According to Baḥya, all that is outside the divine world, including demonological matters, belongs to "the way of reason," insofar as it is necessary to explain the verses or the mitzvot according to the subject. Baḥya is considered of great importance in Kabbalah and is one of the main sources through which the kabbalistic sayings of Naḥmanides' contemporaries have been preserved. As a rule, Baḥya does not divulge his kabbalistic sources. With the exception of the Sefer ha-*Bahir, which he considers an authentic Midrash, and Naḥmanides, who is his guide in Kabbalah, he rarely mentions other kabbalists, although he uses extensively the writings of Jacob b. Sheshet *Gerondi, *Asher b. David, Joseph *Gikatilla, and others. He treats the Zohar in a similar manner. Parts of the Zohar were known to him, and he copied from them. However, he mentions it only twice (as "Midrash Rabbi Simeon b. Yoḥai"). Kad ha-Kemaḥ contains alphabetically arranged clarifications on the foundations of faith and had a wide circulation. The best edition is that of Breit which contains a commentary (1880–92). A critical edition of Kad ha-Kemaḥ, Shulḥan shel Arba, and Baḥya's commentary to Pirkei Avot was published by C.B. Chavel (Kitvei Rabbenu Baḥya, 1970).


J. Reifmann, in: Alummah, 1 (1936), 69–101; B. Bernstein, Die Schrifterklaerung des Bachja B. Asher (1891); Gottlieb, in: Tarbiz, 33 (1963/64), 287–313; idem, in: Bar-Ilan Sefer ha-Shanah, 2 (1964), 215–50 (Heb.), 27 (Eng. summary); 3 (1965), 139–85; 4–5 (1967), 306–23 (Heb.), 61 (Eng. summary); idem, Ha-Kabbalah be-Khitvei R. Baḥya ben Asher (1970).

[Efraim Gottlieb]